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Illinois Rec Board Clamps Down on Boat Storage

By Duncan Agnew

After hearing from residents on both sides of the aisle, the Evanston Parks and Recreation Board decided to stand by its recommendation to City Council for a new limit of one storage rack per household at the Dempster, Ill., Street Beach launch facility.

If Evanston City Council – which previously sent the item back to the board for further consideration – adopts it, the restriction will go into effect for the 2024 summer season. The change in policy will impact anyone who keeps boats, kayaks or paddle boards at the Dempster launch every summer.

“The part that’s been lacking for a number of years at the sailing beaches is continuous assessment and adjustment. This is an adjustment, and it’s time,” said Lakefront Manager Tim Carter. “I do want to say that staff are not supportive of holding this item until next year. We don’t believe in kicking the can down the road. … This problem will still exist in the future.”

(Editor’s note: The predicament faced by this community is one of an ongoing dilemma  facing outdoor recreationists across the country, in which RV and boat owners are struggling to find appropriate accommodations to store their high-priced toys. Research has indicated that for every space safely storing an RV, five more are needed, offering savvy entrepreneurs a unique business opportunity.)

The problem that Carter referred to is that some 667 people are on the waitlist for a dry stack storage rack, which stores boats on land. Only between 10 and 20 racks change hands any given year, he said, so many people have found themselves stuck on the waitlist for years. As of now, the facility can hold 121 single hull boats, 23 double hull boats and 224 “paddle vessels” – kayaks or paddle boards. Forty-nine households use two or more racks and take up a total of 103 racks.

Several residents, including Payson Wild, who leads the Evanston Sail & Paddle Association, said they opposed the limit, at least partially because many older Evanstonians keep multiple boats and boards at Dempster and can’t easily move them to and from their homes.

Wild and longtime sailor Ken Proskie also urged the board to consider adding more storage racks on the north end of the Dempster Beach. Carter and Michael Callahan, assistant director of parks and recreation, said they would look into that possibility, but many windsurfers and the city’s summer aquatics camp use that same space for staging.

‘We’re out of sand’

“The reality is we’re out of real estate. We’re out of sand,” said Callahan, who mentioned how the city’s beaches have struggled with erosion and rising lake levels. “We are very limited in ever being able to provide everybody with a rack. That’s probably not a realistic goal. So how do we maximize the good for the most possible in the most equitable way possible?”

This particular policy change is part of a larger overhaul of parks and recreation programs, especially on the lakefront, to give more people access to the lake for playing in the sand, swimming and learning how to sail, among other amenities. Traditionally, Evanston’s wealthier white families have dominated those spaces and activities, Carter said, and Parks and Recreation Director Audrey Thompson has made it a priority to give low-income households of color more opportunities to enjoy public spaces like the beaches.

At this time, the city is not considering a lottery for storage racks, according to Thompson. Carter said he also reached out to Northwestern University about partnering on rack storage, rentals and lessons at either the Sailing Center or the Lincoln Street Beach, but the university “is not interested.”

One idea that board members discussed Thursday night, though, is either increasing the fee for nonresidents with a storage rack or removing access to nonresidents altogether.

Plus, while the city collects an annual fee of $210 from every Evanston resident using a rack, it doesn’t verify their address every year, so some people may have had a rack for decades and long ago moved to a different suburb. Carter said he had even talked to a few candid folks who had moved away and started “subleasing” their rack to a former neighbor.

“We have to clean that up,” he said.

The board agreed to check with the city’s legal team and bring that item back up for discussion at its next meeting in February.

Two other changes proposed

On top of the rack limit, the parks and recreation staff have also proposed two other changes for 2024:

  • For boat launch only passes (without a storage rack), residents can pay full price for their first vessel, but only $50 per additional vessel
    • Storage rack users can also try “double stacking” multiple items on one rack if they fit, like keeping a paddle board or kayak sitting inside a boat, for example. By doing so, each double stacked vessel will cost $105 – half the typical price for storing a vessel
  • All vessels have to be put on their racks by June 15. Any empty racks at that time will go to people on the waitlist.

One single mother and teacher said she can’t take her equipment out to Dempster by that deadline date because of work and child care obligations, and Carter said he would talk individually with anyone facing an extreme circumstance.

“How are we going to diversify the beach? How are we going to get it more inclusive? How’s it going to be more representative of Evanston, the real Evanston?” Callahan asked. “It’s going to take time no matter what, but we have to start with a policy that is equitable to begin with if we’re ever going to get there.”

Duncan Agnew is a contributor to the Evanston Roundtable

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